I started to write a snarky post about this Richard Cohen article and then gave up. It’s too bad a piece to warrant flipness. Cohen finds out (he doesn’t say how, but this has been circulating around the nastier right wing websites for a little while) that a magazine associated with Barack Obama’s church in Chicago, and run by his pastor, honoured Louis Farrakhan last year. He then insists that Barack Obama immediately express his outrage.
It’s important to state right off that nothing in Obama’s record suggests he harbors anti-Semitic views or agrees with Wright when it comes to Farrakhan. Instead, as Obama’s top campaign aide, David Axelrod, points out, Obama often has said that he and his minister sometimes disagree. Farrakhan, Axelrod told me, is one of those instances. … But … given who the parishioner is, … could be the next American president. Where is his sense of outrage? … I don’t for a moment think that Obama shares Wright’s views on Farrakhan. But the rap on Obama is that he is a fog of a man. We know little about him, and, for all my admiration of him, I wonder about his mettle. … This time, though, “present” will not do.
Indeed, there’s nothing in Obama’s record to suggest he is an anti-Semite. Nor, for that matter, is there anything in Richard Cohen’s record to suggest that he gets his jollies watching Mickey Kaus blow goats. And while Farrakhan is undoubtedly a nasty piece of work, why is it Obama in particular who needs to condemn him? That Obama’s pastor has praised him doesn’t really cut it as a rationale – church leaders and spiritual mentors can believe and say a lot of bizarre shit that you don’t yourself subscribe to (as a mostly lapsed Catholic, I speak from experience on this point).
More specifically (to take a not-so-random example), Billy Graham, who made some unambiguously anti-Semitic remarks to Richard Nixon which ended up on tape, appears to have been a major figure in Hillary Clinton’s spiritual life (see also this speech made by Bill Clinton at the inauguration of Graham’s library last year). While nowhere close to Farrakhan’s league (he appears to have been a repentant and occasional anti-Semite rather than an unrepentant and consistent one), he was a direct influence on the Clintons rather than an influence-on-an-influence. I don’t recall Richard Cohen, or anyone else, muttering that there was no evidence that Hillary and Bill Clinton were anti-Semites, but that they needed to voice their outrage or else. And for good reason; any suggestion along these lines would have been treated as crazy. Knowing that Billy Graham was occasionally anti-Semitic doesn’t tell you anything about what Bill and Hillary Clinton believe.
There’s something else going on here. I strongly suspect that Barack Obama is being asked to condemn Louis Farrakhan not because there’s some bogus two-degrees-of-separation thing going on, but because Barack Obama is black, and because black politicians are supposed to condemn Louis Farrakhan before they can be trusted. This isn’t racism, but it’s an implicit double standard, under which black politicians have a higher hurdle to jump before they deserve public trust than white ones. More generally, this is a bad, wrongheaded, and even dangerous article. Richard Cohen shouldn’t have written it, and the Washington Post shouldn’t have printed it.